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What is Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)?
Marriage counseling and family therapy is a field of study that deals with the stress and experiencing couples and families go through. Individuals working in this field will counsel couples and families, assisting them in working through issues and providing techniques for managing through problems in the future. Counselors may work for public agencies or through private practices, with public counselors primarily working primarily with families.
How Do You Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
In order to become a marriage and family therapist, marriage counselor, or family therapist you will need to complete and achieve a series of important steps. The 5 steps you need to follow to become a marriage and family therapist include:
- Be a licensed mental health practitioner
- Earn a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree in MFT
- Have two or more years of supervised clinical experience
- Work to independently diagnose and treat mental health disorders & issues
- Be able to work with families, couples, and individuals in a variety of settings
In order to locate the MFT licensing board for your state of residence, simply visit the American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy (AAMFT) locator here.
College Requirements in Family Therapy
Marriage Counseling and Family Therapy degrees allow individuals to work with families and spouses to resolve problems and issues. Students interested in this degree will have to learn the skills necessary to achieve success with patients. Typically those pursuing a master's degree in marriage counseling and family therapy will have a degree in social work, psychology, counseling, or have pursued a career in those fields prior to changing focus. A therapist needs patience, understanding, public speaking skills and knowledge of therapy techniques.
Such techniques include:
- Communication Theory
- Relationship Education
- Systems Theory
- Reality Therapy
Top Skills of a Marriage & Family Therapist
- Encourage individuals and family members to develop and use self-help skills and strategies in a constructive manner
- Ask questions to help clients identify feelings and behaviors
- Counsel clients on concerns including issues such as relationships, divorce, parenting, and finances
- Document and manage case files to include activities, progress notes, evaluations, and recommendations
- Assess, develop, and implement treatment plans for family issues, mental distress, disorders, destructive patterns of behavior, and other struggles
Who Would Use a Marriage and Family Therapist?
While virtually anyone can choose to visit a marriage and family counselor, the most common clients tend to fall into a handful of groups. The 7 most common patients of a Marriage and Family Therapist include the following:
- Military members & the families of military members
- Individuals & families affected by severe trauma
- Families, individuals, and couples
- Adults, children, adolescents, and seniors
- LGBTQ couples, families, and individuals
- Multicultural families
- Individuals and families coping with a severe or chronic illness
Disorders Treated by Marriage & Family Therapists
The variety of issues and disorders treated by a MFT is quite broad. In fact, a marriage and family therapist can be a generalist who works with a wide variety of disorders while others can specialize in a particular field of study. A common set of disorders a marriage and family therapist professional will work with include:
- Marital and relationship challenges
- Bipolar, depression, and affective disorders
- Schizophrenia & delusional disorders
- Adjustment to physical illness & chronic disorders
- Anxiety, dissociative, stress disorders
- Drug & alcohol disorders
- Sexuality issues
- Childhood & adolescent behavioral & emotional disorders
- ADD and ADHD
- Divorce & life transitions
- Eating disorders
- Conduct disorder and delinquency
- Eldercare family intervention services
- Domestic violence
Common Job Titles for a Marriage & Family Therapist
Job titles for marriage and family counselors can vary from state to state and region to region. Depending on the area of concentration and region of the country, you may see any number of the following job titles when researching a marriage and family therapist. The list of examples of common job titles for a MFT include:
- Advanced Clinical Specialist
- Clinical Services Director
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Family Therapist
- Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)
- Clinical Therapist
- Family Counselor
- Marriage Therapist
- Clinical Psychologist
- Marriage Counselor
- Counseling Psychologist
- Family Therapist
Where Do Marriage & Family Therapists Work?
The top 15 places of employment for a marriage and family therapist include the following industries and organizations:
- Faith-Based Organizations – Approximately one-quarter of all MFT’s work for a religious organization or faith-based system to help individuals and couples cope with mental health issues, relationships, faith, and parenting.
- Health Practitioners Office – MFT’s working in health practitioners offices is the third most popular type of employment setting on this list.
- Inpatient Care Facility – Licensed Marriage and Family Counselors working in an inpatient care facility will often work in conjunction with a team of doctors and nurse practitioners. For mental health specialties, MFT’s will frequently act as a case manager for patients.
- Outpatient Care Facility – The outpatient care facility is the second most popular setting to work for a MFT behind health practitioners offices and faith based organizations. Marriage and Family Therapist perform assessments, education, case management, liaison duties, and clinical services to patients of all ages and a variety of disorders.
- Private Practice – A private practice can be an inbound or outbound residential setting or an office in a high rise that services patients by appointment for a variety of issues. Private practice can be focused on a number of specialties from family issues to mental disorders to grief management.
- Schools & University Research Centers – Marriage and Family Therapists can be found in schools across the country in a variety of capacities. From academic research specialists to professionals working with staff, a MFT working in an academic setting is an important professional to multiple parties.
- Social Service Agencies – Therapists working in within social services can be found in public and private agencies. MFT’s can work with children, adults, families, and groups to provide counseling for a variety of issues and concerns.
- Medical Centers – A MFT working in a medical center will work in concert with a medical team to ensure patients receive the proper care and treatment(s). Marriage and family counselors will work with small groups or individuals as part of a defined treatment plan.
- Community Mental Health Facilities – MFT’s working in a community mental health facility see patients suffering from emotional disorders, drug addiction, and mental illness. As a valued link in the chain, a MFT will partner with medical providers and family members to provide therapeutic services, interventions, and counseling.
- Substance Abuse Centers – An addiction counselor is a niche therapist working to help patients cope with and detach from a dependency on drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and/or gambling. Marriage and family therapists provide a path through addiction and substance abuse to a brighter future for patients suffering from a variety of issues.
- Nursing Care Facilities – A licensed MFT may be hired as a consultant to nursing care facilities to work with individuals or families cope with mental health issues or emotional disorders.
- Correctional Facilities and Courts of Law– Prisons and courts are another type of setting you may find Marriage and Family Therapists engaged in helping others. From providing counsel to inmates to providing expert testimony, MFT’s provide a unique set of skills within the legal system.
- State Government or Federal Government – A MFT can provide insight and support to political figures and legislation at the state and federal level. By working independently or with a political action committee, a Marriage and Family Therapist can make a far-reaching impact on broad-based communities and those suffering from chronic diseases through political means.
- Military – Marriage and Family Therapists can be found in all branches of the military working with military members, groups, and families. MFT’s provide counsel for personnel with PTSD along with family therapy for a variety of reasons within the military.
- VA Hospitals – Counselors working in a VA hospitals will help the institutions assess patients, create treatment plans, provide intervention, and group therapy for a variety of disorders and issues.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Opportunities and Therapist Licensure
Marriage counseling and family therapy specialists may work in a variety of institutions, including schools, hospitals, public agencies, clinics, private practices and others. Individuals in this field will work closely with couples, parents and children in order to provide the means for productive communication and conflict resolution. Such counselor are often sought after to resolve minor issues, or growing problems, though some may be provided by the state if certain issues, such as abuse, are brought to light. Additionally, many seminaries and theological schools offer degrees in this field as the role of priest or pastor often involves providing guidance and counseling for couples and families.
Marriage counseling and family therapy licensing requirements will vary from state to state, though most will require a degree and 3000 supervised internship hours.
Top Paying States for a Marriage & Family Counselor
- New Jersey $74,750
- Alaska $68,230
- Arizona $65,440
- Maine $62,130
- Hawaii $61,470
States with the Highest Employment of Marriage & Family Counselors
- California 10,350
- New Jersey 4,080
- Florida 3,030
- Arizona 1,740
- Pennsylvania 1,350
Top 5 Employers of Marriage & Family Counselors
- Individual & Family Services 11,350
- Outpatient Care Facilities 6,060
- Offices of Health Practitioners 5,600
- State Government Agencies 5,010
- Mental Health Facilities 1,890
Job Growth, Salary and Related Therapy Fields
Marriage counseling and family therapy is a growing field and demand is expected to grow by 19% in the coming years. The average yearly income for a marriage counselor is approximately $49,170 and the BLS estimates there will be 31,400 jobs created in MFT in the coming decade. If you are interested in a degree in marriage counseling and family therapy you may also be interested in social work, substance abuse and addiction counseling and psychology.
Additional Resources for Marriage & Family Therapists
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
- American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA)
- Association for Imago Relationship Therapy (AIRT)
- Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB)
- International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC)
- International Family Therapy Association (IFTA)
- Licensed Professional Marriage Family Therapy Association (LPMFTA)
- National Council on Family Relations (NCFR)
- National Credentialing Academy (NCA)